Migrants’ Stories: My life in Korea: Learning and understanding

By Marilou Agaid Han

Posted at Jan 08 2013 12:11 PM | Updated as of Jan 08 2013 08:13 PM

Editors Note: The story is from the book “Migrants’ Stories, Migrants’ Voices 4" published by the Philippine Migrants Rights Watch (PMRW) with the support from CEI (Conferenza Episcopale Italiana) or the Italian Bishops' Conference. The book contains a collection of 10 stories of the realities of migration as faced by Filipinos abroad and their family members in the Philippines. ABS-CBNnews.com obtained permission from PMRW to publish the stories online.

I left my hometown Tarlac City in June 2000 to try my luck in another country. I was then working as an accounting clerk in one of the more popular supermarkets in Tarlac City. My sister, who was married to a Korean and living in Seoul, invited me to come over and stay with her.

Since the salary I was getting as an accounting clerk was not much, I decided to visit my sister and explore my chances in Korea. During that time, my father was also sick and we needed money for his regular medication.

My two brothers and one sister were already married then, so we could not really expect them to provide financial support for my father. I felt that it was my responsibility to support my parents since I was single then.

When I arrived in Korea, my Korean brother-in-law helped me get a job in a factory that manufactures leather jackets. I was a helper in the factory but since the job paid well, I did not mind that the job is quite difficult. I also met many other people, mostly Korean workers. I was not supposed to work in Korea since I only had a tourist visa. I was supposed to stay there for only three months, but since I was working, I extended my stay to six months. After six months, I did not return to the Philippines and hence became an undocumented alien.

Luckily, after a few months of working illegally in Korea, the government decided to give amnesty to undocumented aliens like me. My boss was kind enough to sponsor me as a worker in his factory and so I was able to legalize my stay. I worked with the same factory until 2003.

While working in the factory, I experienced working with Koreans who are rude but I was able to tolerate working with them because I respect our boss who was kind. I also met other Filipinos, as well as nationals from other countries who are living and working in Korea. Many of them became my friends. But during that time, I did not bother to learn much about Korean language and culture, thinking that there is really no need for me to do so since I would eventually go back to the Philippines.

That was before I met a Korean man whom I married in 2003. After we got married, I stopped working. I became a full time housewife and gave birth to our son, Son Deok.

I found the early stage of my married life quite uncomfortable. My husband and I were living with his parents in Cheonan and it was a difficult adjustment for me. I was not accustomed to Korean family life and culture, so I had a hard time adjusting. For over two years, I never had a friend in Cheonan. Thus, life then became plain and boring for me. It was then when I came to realize that in order to live and survive in Korea, I had to learn their language, family traditions, and way of life.

There were times when I would feel offended by the obvious love and care of my mother-in-law towards my husband. I felt that she was taking my role as wife of his son for granted. I felt that she was meddling so much in our lives, including in our personal expenses and other financial matters. There were times, too, when she would make decisions for us.

I felt neglected and not consulted whenever there are family gatherings. They thought I would not be able to do things properly because I do not know their ways. I felt discriminated. All these resulted in arguments, and sometimes fighting between my husband and I. But all these changed when I met another Filipina married to a Korean who was also living in Cheonan.

It was in mid-2006 when she introduced me to the Healthy Support Family Center. The center provides support not only to Korean families but also to multicultural families that need help and assistance, especially when they have family problems. They also offered free Korean language and culture education for the married migrants in Cheonan City. I decided to attend the classes and learn about Korean culture. There were a lot of women like me, foreigners married to Koreans, who were attending classes at the center. I met many wonderful people, teachers, Filipinos and women from other countries. I discovered where the Philippine store is located and finally where the Catholic church is.

Since then, my life has changed. Going to church changed my life. Every time I visit the church, I felt light and protected. I also met many Filipinos in church. I have never felt so much at ease. My husband and my son would also accompany me to church. Later on, my prayers were answered when both my husband and son were baptized as Catholics. I believe that one of the reasons why our relationship has become stronger is because of our faith in God. We have put God in the center of our family and this has worked for us.

In 2007, I was offered to work with the Healthy Support Family Center together with a friend from Vietnam and Cambodia as ‘Supporters,’ having the role of assisting fellow married migrant Filipinas with the support of the center. I was the one assigned to ask my fellow migrants about their hopes and ask them if they have any problems about their way of living here in Korea so that the center will have the ideas on the kind of programs they have to make in order to help these migrants.

Through this work, I met a lot of Filipinas and women from other countries,too. I started to familiarize myself with many places here in Cheonan, joined other organizations, learned more, and met different people. It is interesting to note that most of these Filipina friends that I met at the center are also the ones I see and meet in the church. This, I believe, is one of the reasons why the ‘ajummas’ (meaning married woman in Korean), specifically Filipino women married to Koreans, get close to each other, like one big family. We would meet during weekdays in the center and in church on weekends. Since then, going to church is like meeting not only my friends but my family and relatives, as well. It is such a nice feeling.

In 2008, I was convinced by my Korean teacher, who is like a sister to me, to work as a Korean teacher (Basic Education) under the Home Visit Study Program of the Multicultural Family Support Center based in Asan City. The job entails visiting and helping married migrants who live in rural areas, and who are having difficulties in traveling in order to attend classes at the center, as well as those who are not allowed to go out for a couple of months because they have just given birth, or those who are experiencing financial problems.

At first, it was hard for me because it takes an hour of travel from my house to our main office, and my students come from different countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines. Sometimes, it is hard to communicate with them. I am glad that the Healthy Family Support Center here in Cheonan City founded a Multicultural Family Support Center in mid-2009 and managed to have their Home Visit Study Project.

In 201I, I started again to work as a Korean teacher (Basic Education) and this time my students are all Filipinas. I feel satisfied because I can teach them in such a way that they can understand me better. I do not just teach them how to speak Korean but I also teach them about the way of life of the Koreans. For them, I am not just a teacher but a friend or a big sister, whom they can count on during good and bad times.

I am there to guide them and give advice to them. I know I am not yet that good with my Korean ability but I’m satisfied to see most of them grow and learn the things around them.

At present, I am still working at the Multicultural Family Support Center as a Korean teacher (Basic Education), as a Multicultural teacher (Introducing Philippine Culture to Preschoolers and Elementary students), and as a Translator, and as a supporter. I am also part of the group called Legion of Mary at the Moyse center, working and helping the migrants and immigrants from different countries, together with my fellow Filipinas and volunteers. I am also a reader and commentator during our mass in Oryeongdong Church. At the same time, I also consider myself a full-time housewife.

Sometimes I feel tired because of my work at the center, the household chores I have at home, and the other activities I have. But at the same time, I’m happy and satisfied because I have a good-hearted husband, a loving and sweet son, and very supportive families from both sides.

It’s true that because of cultural differences, many of our migrant friends are struggling to have a happy and better life. To overcome these struggles, we need to learn and understand other cultures. Since we are living in a place which is totally different from our own country, we have to learn and adjust. We should be aware of their ways in order to avoid misunderstanding.

Communication is very important. If we can speak the language, then we are better able to express our feelings which will lead others to understand us and for us to understand them as well. It is us who came to live with them so we have to respect their ways and live harmoniously with them, even though at times it may cause us pain. We have to accept that we’re in another country not only for gains but for pains, also. Life isn’t that easy especially if you are living in another country.

Life in Korea is difficult because they have a culture very different from ours. But one has to try to learn their culture to make life easy. One should not just sit around. There is so much to learn. Like the saying goes, “Don’t wait for the perfect moment, take the moment and make it perfect”.

To all Filipinos who are aspiring to migrate, if you decide to live in another country, you must prepare yourself for whatever circumstances that may take place. Understand what your role is, and know where you stand. Real happiness and wealth are not found in material things we see around us. It is found within us, in our families, and in our friends whom we love and cherish.

And we should not forget to pray and ask for God’s guidance. As the Bible says, “Knock and the door will be opened.” With God’s grace, everything will be fine.